Why You Should Care About Property Rights
By Assemblyman Ray Haynes
July 10, 2006
Of all the issues I have seen in my time in politics in California, the most misunderstood has to be property rights. This week, the "Protect Our Homes" initiative qualified, and the state is about to embark on a long debate over property rights, so I thought I would put in my two cents worth right now.
First, property rights are the keystone to liberty. For those of you who are not architects, the keystone is the part of old buildings (particularly tall ones) upon which all the structure relied. If the keystone broke or collapsed, the entire structure would collapse. Protecting the keystone, therefore, was very important to the strength and stability of those buildings.
In the same way, property rights are the building block upon which the entire structure of liberty rests. If government does not protect property rights, all other freedoms are meaningless.
How can that be, you ask?
Think of it this way. What if the government can take away your home for any reason it chooses? Would you be more likely or less likely to criticize the government? Or suppose you do criticize the government, some bureaucrat or elected official gets upset, and takes your house? What are you going to say to your spouse when they make a comment about what a stupid thing that was? Your spouse responds: "Was it worth the consequences? You didn't have to say anything and we would be just fine. Thanks for standing up for what is right now that we are homeless, you stupid jerk."
Won't happen, you say, not in America. Trust me; it does a lot more often than you think. I have one example. In my early time in politics, I took on an influential city council person, who got upset by my comments. The first move - try to embarrass me in the newspapers. I don't embarrass easily, so the next move was to call all my clients, and tell them if they didn't fire me, they would never do business in that city again. I lost $5000 a month in business in two days. That can have a huge effect on someone. Most people, after such an event, simply slink away in silence, having learned their lesson about exercising their first amendment rights.
What about a church that teaches things the government doesn't like? There goes the church. Or if the government doesn't like whom you hang out with. Oops, there goes your house again. Without a solid protection of property rights, all of these things happen, and they happen a lot.
In California, eminent domain was used to take a small tire shop from its owner, and sell it to a large Sears tire shop. Another business owner lost his business for a car dealer's parking lot. Several churches have lost their land to Costco or condominiums. And the government tells us it needs this power to protect us.
In the fight against "Protect Our Homes" the ruling class, which includes the bureaucrats, the politically powerful and the politicians, is going to tell us just how much they need to be able to take your home to protect the environment, or to protect us from criminals, or to save women and children from cancer or baby seals from vicious clubbing by homeowners who just want to heat up the planet. All they really want to do is protect their power and influence over your life, and they will say or do anything to protect that power.
We have a unique chance in California. We can strike a blow for liberty, or preserve the power of the ruling class. It is going to be interesting to see what Californians do.